NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 8
Progress in Restoring the Worship.
THE LAW READ AND HEARD. ó V.1. And all the people gathered themselves together as one man, with entire unanimity of mind, into the street that was before the Water Gate, a large open square near the subterranean water galleries of Ophel; and they spake unto Ezra, the scribe, who had come to Jerusalem some thirteen years before with about three thousand returned exiles, to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had commanded to Israel. Ezra may have returned to Babylon after instituting his reform measures, and now had made the trip a second time to assist Nehemiah in the further restoration of the Temple worship. V.2. And Ezra, the priest, brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, either because they were old enough, or because they were within reach of Ezraís voice, upon the first day of the seventh month. The beginning of the seventh month of the church-year, the new year of the civil year, was known as the Feast of Trumpets, which was held as a great day. It speaks well for the Jews at that time that there was a desire for hearing the Law of God read, for such public reading of the Word was required every seventh year. Cp. Lev. 23, 24; Num. 19, 1-6. V. 3. And he read therein, from the roll of parchment on which the Books of Moses were written, before the street that was before the Water Gate, before the great assembly in the public square, from the morning, from the time it became light, until midday, for some six hours, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the Book of the Law, whose principal sections could be read in that time. V.4. And Ezra, the scribe, stood upon a pulpit of wood, a high platform with space for more than a dozen men, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. These priests not only gave Ezra their moral support, but probably also relieved him from time to time in the reading of the Law. V. 5. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, unrolling the parchment as he progressed with his reading; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up. V. 6. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God; he opened his reading with a solemn prayer, during which the people stood, and at the conclusion of which they gave their assent with the word used for that purpose to this day. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands, in a gesture of supplication; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground, the attitude of reverent adoration. V. 7. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, that is, other Levites, for the first thirteen were leaders among the Levites, caused the people to understand the Law, by explaining the sections read by Ezra to smaller groups, or by translating unusual Hebrew words into Aramaic, the language now chiefly spoken by the people; and the people stood in their place. V. 8. So they, Ezra and his assistants, read in the book, in the Law of God, distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. That is the right kind of religious service, when the Word of God is read and explained, and when all who hear it accept it in all sincerity, with praise and thanksgiving to God.
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES. ó V. 9. And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, he being the governor of Judea under appointment from the Persian king, and Ezra, the priest, the scribe, the learned doctor of priestly descent, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord, your God; mourn not nor weep, they were to give no evidence of mourning, deeply as they were affected by the reading, for this would have disturbed the holiness of the day. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law, overcome with the sense of their national sins, as brought out by the reading of the commands and prohibitions of the Lord. V. 10. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, the special fine foods of the festival season, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared, with the spirit spoken of in Deut. 16, 11. 12; for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry, full of mournfulness, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Every one who, by reason of Godís promise in His Word, is sure of Godís kindness and love toward him will not only feel a holy joy over this fact, but will also be filled with wonderful strength in walking the ways of Godís will. V. 11. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. V. 12. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, in the right thankfulness which the occasion demanded, Lev. 23, 23-25, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them. V. 13. And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra, the scribe, even to understand, to consider most carefully, the words of the Law, including such ordinances as had not again been observed since the return from the exile. V. 14. And they found written in the Law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, namely, in Lev. 23, 34-42; Deut. 16, 13, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month, in the so-called Feast of Tabernacles; v. 15. and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, the range of which the Mount of Olives was the highest, and fetch olive-branches, and pine-branches, those of the oil-tree of Palestine, and myrtle-branches, a small tree with tangled branches and thick foliage, and palm-branches, and branches of thick trees, cp. Lev. 23, 40, to make booths, as it is written. V. 16. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, Deut. 16, 13-17, every one upon the roof of his house, the roofs of Oriental houses being flat, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the Water Gate, the large open square near the Temple, and in the street of the Gate of Ephraim, a large open place in the northwestern part of the city. V. 17. And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths and sat under the booths, they lived in them during the week of the festival; for since the days of Jeshua, the son of Nun, unto that day had not the children of Israel done so, the enthusiasm and joy of the people had never reached such heights as at this time, when they were once more realizing what it meant to be delivered from captivity among the heathen. And there was very great gladness. V. 18. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he, Ezra, read in the Book of the Law of God, the zeal of the people causing him to do even more than the Law actually required. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner, Lev. 23, 36; Num. 29, 35; Deut. 16, 8. The convocation of the eighth day was characterized by unusual solemnity and impressiveness, and significant rites were later added to the customs of the day, as seen from John 7, 37. Even as Israel rejoiced at that time, because the Lord lived in its midst, so the Christian Church is full of gladness at all times because God makes His abode in the hearts of all believers.